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Thunder, Pacers jump it up in marquee matinee matchup

(SportsNetwork.com) - In what looked like a possible NBA Finals matchup, the Oklahoma City Thunder will visit Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take on the Indiana Pacers.

This certainly did look like a future championship series candidate, but Pacers have fallen on hard times of late. Indiana is 3-8 in its last 11 and is tied for the Eastern Conference lead with the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Miami fell in Atlanta to the Hawks Saturday night.

The Pacers inched in front of Miami after the Heat lost two straight and Indiana claimed a bizarre victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. Pacers coach Frank Vogel benched all five starters in the win, but Friday night Indiana met the Heat in South Beach with Eastern Conference supremacy on the line.

The Heat prevailed, 98-86, as Miami dominated the Pacers, 31-20, in the third quarter.

"The third quarter was too much for us to overcome," Vogel said. "Give the Heat a lot of credit, their defensive pressure was extraordinary and they played a terrific basketball game."

One game after the mass benching, Paul George and David West were the only starters to respond with double-digit scoring efforts, totaling 22 and 18 points, respectively.

Roy Hibbert was limited to five points on 2-of-6 shooting, and the 7-foot-2 center only grabbed one rebound in nearly 34 minutes of playing time.

C.J. Watson and Luis Scola both netted double-figures off the bench.

Turnovers were a big difference in the game as Indiana had 16 and Miami only committed nine.

The Pacers still own the NBA's best home mark at 34-6 and will finish the regular season at Orlando.

The Thunder are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for second in the Western Conference. A win by Oklahoma City, or a loss by the Clippers will give the Thunder that No. 2 seed.

Oklahoma City has won three in a row and two straight on the road. On Friday, the Thunder dispatched the New Orleans Pelicans, 116-94, behind the strength of Kevin Durant.

The presumptive MVP scored 27 points with six rebounds and five assists. Russell Westbrook tallied 24 points with seven assists and Serge Ibaka contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

"I thought our defense was really good," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "It's something we have been trying to work on coming into the third quarter is getting better on the defensive end. The last couple of games have been really good."

OKC shot 53.7 percent from the field, while New Orleans only managed to shoot 40.7 percent.

The Thunder visit the Pelicans on Monday night and close the regular season at home against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.

The Thunder hammered the Pacers by 24 in Oklahoma City on Dec. 8 and have taken three straight and five of six in this series. OKC has won two of three in Indiana.

04/13 10:09:23 ET